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Kendel S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 11, 2019

KENDEL S., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff proceeds through counsel in his appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Child Disability Benefits (CDB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda of record, this matter is REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1985.[1] He has a ninth-grade education, and previously worked in a warehouse for a few days. (AR 661, 677-78.)

         Plaintiff applied for CDB and SSI in April 2014 and June 2014, respectively. (AR 635-41, 644-49.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 469-83, 486-92.)

         On August 9, 2017, ALJ Paul Gaughen held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff, Plaintiff's sister, and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 34-82.) On September 20, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 13-26.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 1, 2018 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.


         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2000). At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is gainfully employed. The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 30, 2003, the alleged onset date. (AR 16.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's obesity, history of alcohol addiction, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. (Id.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 16-18.)

         If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing medium work, with additional limitations: he can understand, remember, and follow new simple instructions/directions, but not those that are detailed or complex (i.e. with more than five steps to follow). He can handle routine and perfunctory work-related social interactions and at a higher level with persons with whom he is familiar or acquainted. He cannot meet fast-paced production demands and should not work where alcoholic beverages are served or stored. He needs a well-set and -explained work routine. (AR 18.)

         Plaintiff has no past relevant work (AR 25), so the ALJ proceeded to step five, where the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate at step five that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to work that exists in significant levels in the national economy. With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing representative occupations such as industrial sweeper, laundry laborer, and dryer attendant. (AR 25-26.)

         This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to whether the decision is in accordance with the law and the findings supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in entering step-three findings and in weighing medical opinion evidence, which led to errors in the step-two findings, the assessment of Plaintiff's testimony, the RFC assessment, and the step-five findings. Dkt. 10 at 1-2. Plaintiff also argues that evidence submitted for the first time to the Appeals Council undermines the ALJ's decision. Dkt. 10 at 2. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's ...

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